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WGSS week takes on Wikipedia

Theresa Dunne
Features Editor

To kick-off WGSS week, The College of Wooster’s women’s, gender and sexuality studies program hosted a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon in the CoRE last Monday. At the event, students helped create and edit Wikipedia pages on WGSS-related entries that they felt lacked existing information on the website or deserved a more substantial entry.

Inspired by the initial efforts of FemTechNet (a scholarly network of academics, artists and students working on issues pertaining to feminism, technology and science), the WGSS week Edit-a-Thon participants were responsible for selecting an entry topic related to feminism with little or no existing information, finding reliable source material covering their topic and crafting or editing an entry according to Wikipedia’s writing and style guidelines.

This project, otherwise known as “Wikistorming,” was launched by FemTechNet in 2013 after Wikipedia’s co-founder, Jimmy Wales, reported that 87 percent of the site’s contributors were men. The announcement ultimately exposed Wikipedia’s largely male bias and revealed the potential for skewed perspectives towards patriarchal norms and male interests.

When asked about the importance of the event at Wooster, Alex Kaufmann ’17, a student representative of the WGSS Curriculum Committee and participant in the Edit-a-Thon, said, “It’s important that we’re doing [an Edit-a-Thon] on campus because we as students have privileged access to many sources of academic knowledge, so we have the ability to utilize these fountains of knowledge that have controlled non-public access and turn said knowledge over to the public sphere where it is accessible to all who have an Internet connection.”

As one of the major sources of public scholarship on the internet, Wikipedia is a key educational reference tool for many internet users. According to a study conducted by Hitwise, a service that specializes in measuring online trends, Wikipedia has become the #1 external site visited following a Google search and amounts for about 24.3 percent of all visits to educational reference websites. However, because of Wikipedia’s overwhelmingly male contribution base, its many readers receive selective information largely curated from the male perspective.

“Wikipedia is currently incredibly androcentric—both in its content and in its editors. This means that many important women, or events or other things relating to women or feminism are being left out of the massive endeavor of public scholarship that is Wikipedia,” said Kaufmann.

Not only did the Edit-a-Thon offer students the opportunity to become involved in feminist activism on campus, it also encouraged a campus-wide dialogue by including students from a variety of disciplines. Students taking Professor Kabria Baumgartner’s class Beyond Harriet Tubman, Professor Katherine Holt’s Modern Brazil, Professor Susan Clayton’s Psychology of Women & Gender, Professor Jeremy Rapport’s class on New Religions in the New Age and Professor Brett Krutzch’s Queer Lives all participated in the Edit-a-Thon process, editing entries related to class themes.

Through these contributions from students and faculty at the College, the WGSS week Edit-a-Thon was able to raise further awareness surrounding the biases of Wikipedia and worked towards the FemTechNet’s Wikistorming project’s overall goals by revolutionizing the website’s culture and contributing towards a more egalitarian online reference source.

For more information on the “Wikistorming” project, please visit www.femtechnet.newschool.edu/wikistorming/.

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